Essays in the Economics of Religion and Family

Clara E. Jace

Advisor: Peter J Boettke, PhD, Department of Economics

Committee Members: Peter T. Leeson, Rosolino Candela

Online Location, Online
April 07, 2021, 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM


This dissertation studies religion and family from the economic point of view. What distinguishes the economic approach from the other social sciences is that it adheres to a set of natural economic laws applying to human action regardless of time and place. Thus, all actors in the following chapters receive alike treatment—priests, parents, autocrats, and so on. The economic anthropology can be summarized as such: agents purposefully choose to maximize net perceived benefits, and in doing so, depend on one another.

What further joins these projects is their attempt to understand how both religious and familial organizations relate to the state. What comparative advantage does each organization possess? Why have family and religion persisted throughout time, and what explains their organizational structure? How does exchange occur across these organizations? Though the subsequent questions have been debated before my time and will continue to be debated, it is my hope that these papers represent a small contribution to truth and knowledge. Moreover, as families, religious groups, and states are evolving more rapidly today than perhaps ever before, answering these questions will become only more important for those concerned with flourishing at peace in all corners of society.

 Chapter one of this dissertation is based upon my paper “An Economic Theory of Economic Analysis: The Case of the School of Salamanca” published in Public Choice (2019). I argue that the initial discovery of economic laws by the School of Salamanca in 16th-century Spain can be understood as the supply response to an increased demand for economic analysis at that time. In particular, both the professor-priests of the School and transatlantic merchants had an incentive to more fully understand the relationship between economic phenomenon and policy in order to protect their property against the advances of the king. In studying and participating in everyday business transactions – often for the immediate end of guiding the spiritual life of businessmen in the confessional – the School of Salamanca became the first identifiable tradition of economic analysis. Its closest heir is the Austrian school of economics today.

Chapter two covers my paper “The Family Constraint: Autocratic Family Policy in the Soviet Union.” This research project investigates the puzzle of Soviet family policy, during which the Party pushed for revolutionary policies – such as unilateral divorce and legalized abortion – only to overturn them a generation later. I argue that this contradictory behavior can be explained by a theory of autocratic family policy that draws upon family economics and public choice. Viewing the family as a private, people-producing firm, the autocrat faces a tradeoff when selecting his family policy: encourage familial production for greater productivity in the long-run, or, discourage familial production for greater security in the short-run. In the Soviet context, the period of anti-family policy can be explained by the relatively greater value of short-run security to the Party, whereas the period of pro-family policy makes sense when the Party had a longer time horizon.

Finally, chapter three presents my paper “Complements or Substitutes? A Study of Welfare Services in Utah,” which was coauthored with Dr. Bobbi Herzberg and published in Cosmos+Taxis (2021). We begin this work by pointing out that the welfare provided by a state and the welfare provided by a church are differentiated products in the eyes of taxpayers and tithe-payers. When are they demanded as complements and when are they substitutes? To answer this question, we look at the case of Utah, where both state and LDS church welfare are structured similarly (and are similarly successful). This unusual case can be explained by the large proportion of tax-and-tithe payers in Utah, since voters who fund both welfare systems have an incentive for each to increase, rather than decrease, the value of one another.